Change management might seem like it’s just the next in a long line of corporate buzzwords, but it’s actually a very real and powerful tool that can help transform your business. However, despite the prevalence of change management gurus and advice, many businesses are struggling to implement real lasting change.
Part of the issue is that changes are very specific to individual businesses – while there are generalised tools, methods, strategies and principles that you can learn, the best way to actually implement change will vary from company to company. That’s why it’s essential to choose external support that actually takes the time to understand your business.
So, how do you develop the strategies and management plans to deliver real change in your business? We’ve written this article with some general principles to help, as well as breaking out the different stages of leading change management. Read on to find out all our advice.
General Principles of Change Management
Plan for the human side of change. Change isn’t just systemic and organisational. Your business is made up of people, and any changes will massively affect and impact them. Make sure you factor this into your plans – any functional change management plan starts and ends with the people involved.
Don’t just stick to a single methodology. On our Driving and Managing Change course, we teach a range of methods and tools that can be used to change organisations – and there’s a very good reason for this. Sticking resolutely to one methodology can lead to a kind of organisational blindness, where facts or ideas that don’t conform to one way of thinking get ignored. Make sure to consider several different ways of looking at the same problem.
Lead from the very top. It’s absolutely essential with any change management process that leaders at the top of your organisation are leading by example to drive the process. If there’s no buy-in from the C-suite or executive level, or from MDs at smaller businesses, any change process will struggle massively.
Change management isn’t just for big businesses. The general wisdom is that big companies and organisations are the ones that struggle the most to be agile and pivot, but these issues are endemic in small organisations as well. Don’t think that just because your company is small, there’s no benefit to considering change management ideas and methods.
Create ownership of processes. For any change management strategy to be successful, you’ll need to ensure that the change cascades down through all levels of the organisation by involving each layer specifically. You need to allow everybody in the organisation to take ownership of their processes and take seriously any suggestions that come from the “shop floor”.
Communicate your message and stick to it. Change management relies on you creating a “why”. Once you’ve created this message, communicate it and stick to it. Don’t pivot your messaging halfway through the process if you can avoid it. Lay out your plan – and if you do change your “why”, be extremely careful on the messaging around this.
Factor in company culture. Take your company culture into account when planning any change management. If you’ve got a very informal culture, don’t introduce an extremely formal change process, and vice versa. It’s essential to match your processes to the company culture, otherwise you’ll end up appearing stilted and out of touch and it’ll be far harder to get buy-in across the business.
The first step in any change management process is analysing the change. To begin with this process, look at where the business is now and where you believe it needs to be. It’s essential to start with where you are now. If you don’t do this, you may end up with a plan that’s purely aspirational and not realistic.
Analyse the key areas of the business that need to change and create a plan for how this will happen. Always focus on the why of the change by establishing the key benefits. Don’t just focus on the bottom line, look at wider cultural benefits as well.
You’ll also need to ensure you’re looking at all aspects of the change process, from technology to people and culture. Include any organisational changes you may need, as well as looking at the customer base – are you targeting different groups? How will the change affect your existing customers?
Identify the tools, methods and techniques that you’re going to use to create the change in your business. Remember the general principles set out above, and remember that the right methodology will vary from business to business – look for a fit with your culture and needs.
Then, move on to preparing everybody in the business for the upcoming process. Get your messaging straight, identify the key stakeholders and get buy in from them, then start laying the groundwork for rolling out the change to a wider audience.
This next step might seem obvious, but it’s not easy. To create the change you designed in the analysis stage, execute the plan you created. Use regular review points and strategy check-ins to make sure everything is working and to allow you to be agile and receptive to any unexpected changes in the situation.
This is where you’ll need to focus on communicating your “why”. When people are in the weeds of change processes, it’s easy to forget why they started. So as a leader, it’s your job to keep banging the drum with your key message – if your story is compelling enough it’ll shine through and give everybody a reason to keep going.
At this stage, you also need to ensure you’re being receptive to ideas and suggestions from your organisation. Once the people working the processes get exposure to the change, elicit feedback from them on what works and what doesn’t and use this to refine the plan. But remember that if things get stuck, don’t throw good money or energy after bad. Be aware that some things you identified as essential in the planning stage may end up being blind alleys – and be prepared to adjust course accordingly, being careful to communicate this to the wider organisation properly.
Make sure you’re evaluating and measuring the processes and the change itself both during and after the transformation. Check what’s working and what isn’t, as well as how it tracks against your plan. Identify key KPIs, measure progress, and shout about successes.
This is the essential aspect of change management for business leaders. Leading through change is about mobilising your energy and resources to keep people on track through the change process. This means blocking out time for working towards change and making it a part of all of your other processes. For example, bracket off time in each one-to-one you undertake to discuss the change management objectives of the business and how they impact each person.
It’s key that you engage all stakeholders. You might be very good at doing this already in your business with rock solid communication processes, or you may have some challenges in your organisation around this. But more than anything this is a vital process. Keep checking in with as many members of the business as you can, even on areas of the business that might seem unaffected by the changes. You may find unexpected ripple effects or pick up helpful suggestions.
Even once you’ve accomplished your original objectives, you’ll want to try and keep leading on change management. This means identifying other opportunities for agile change, creating a culture of ownership in the business, and establishing regular feedback loops. Remember, never assume the job is complete – change management is a way of thinking as much as anything else. Keep innovating!